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English Language Arts in the Secondary Schools

“Properly, we should read for power.  Man reading should be man intensely alive.  The book should be a ball of light in one’s hand.”                          

-Ezra Pound

The teaching of English is the teaching of reading and writing.  But what does it mean to “read for power” or even write for power?  Think about your favorite author.  What is it about her work that captures your interest?  What are you doing as a reader to connect to his story? 
When we teach our students to read and to write, we are teaching them to interact with text – to bring the text to life!  There are those that do this very well; Ezra Pound, in spite of his controversial beliefs, still managed to create literature that is respected by many.  Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, James Baldwin, Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Langston Hughes are just some of the writers who have shaped my life.  Each of them has expounded on the influence and importance of developing a passion for reading.  Which authors have shaped your life?  What is it about their works that is meaningful for you?
The Half Hollow Hills ELA Department is filled with people who love literature.  Our main goal is to share this passion with our students.  We are dedicated to ensuring that our students have the necessary skills and strategies to not only appreciate literary masters, but to also read and write at a level that will allow this appreciation to flourish.
There are very specific strategies that readers use and writers use to comprehend text and engage an audience.  We want our students to achieve a level of mastery for each of these strategies

  Reading and Writing: Strategies For Success

“Proficient readers know what and when they are comprehending and when they are not comprehending; they can identify their purposes for reading and identify the demands placed on them by a particular text.  They can identify when and why the meaning of the text is unclear to them, and can use a variety of strategies to solve comprehension problems or deepen their understanding of a text.”

-Ellin Keene and Susan Zimmermann,
Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader’s Workshop

In their book, Mosaic of Thought, Ellin Keene and Susan Zimmermann identify seven habits of effective readers.  Effective readers use these habits consistently and interchangeably in order to maximize comprehension of written text.  The habits are:

•     Activating Relevant, Prior Knowledge (Schema)
Making text to text, text to self, and text to world connections before, during, and after reading
•    Determining Importance
Making judgments and concluding what is relevant and irrelevant in understanding the main idea and theme of a text
•    Questioning the Self, the Author, and the Text
Asking questions to assist in comprehension, and clarify and focus reading
•    Visualizing
Creating internal images through text – either of a visual, auditory, or other sensory nature to deepen understanding of text
•    Predicting/Inferring
Identifying implicit text; establishing theories about where the story will lead based on inferences, predictions, critical judgments, or unique interpretations
•    Retelling/Summarizing/Synthesizing
Paraphrasing text, finding the main idea of text, and drawing conclusions or establishing hypotheses from text
•    Monitoring for Meaning (Using fix-up strategies)
Paying attention to one’s understanding of text and finding ways to assist oneself when comprehension falters using strategies from one of the six language systems; pragmatic, schematic, semantic, syntactic, lexical, or grapho-phonic (re-reading or skipping ahead, using the pictures, looking for contextual clues, noticing phrasing and sentence choice, awareness of word choice and language idiosyncrasies, and matching letter sounds and symbols.)

In Lessons That Change Writers, Nancie Atwell encourages students to find their own voice as writers by writing about issues that resonate for them.  She also encourages students to read literature in order to study writer’s craft, similar to how the artist learning cubism studies Picasso or the musician learning bebop studies Charlie Parker.  Craft study allows students to mimic the masters in order to grow their own style and voice.
Heather Lattimer’s book, Thinking through Genre, also employs the practice of learning as apprenticeship.  She encourages teachers to introduce students to exemplary models of the genre they are studying. 
Habits that both authors elaborate upon are:

•    Effective writers create ideas for writing.  They self-initiate and find content in all areas of their lives.
•    Effective writers know their audience and can write for varied audiences.
•    Effective writers recognize their personal style and voice and choose genres that best showcase their abilities.  But effective writers can also write capably in all genres, because they understand the components of all genres.
•    Effective writers write with purpose.  They know what to include and what not to include in communicating their vision and message.
•    Effective writers are aware of literary elements (setting, character, plot, conflict, point of view, theme, mood, and tone) and literary techniques (some of which are comedy, metaphor, allegory, foreshadowing, personification, suspense, hyperbole, etc.) and use them to capture their readers’ interest and attention.
•    Effective writers know how to revise their writing so that their message and vision are clearly expressed.
•    Effective writers know how to edit their writing in order to show clarity and maintain proper language conventions.
•    Effective writers are aware of their personal process for writing and tend to use this process consistently.
•    Effective writers read frequently and know how to use mentor texts to enhance their own writing skills.

Lastly, to quote Janet Angelillo in her book, A Fresh Approach to Punctuation, she states,

    Once I heard a story about Oscar Wilde.  It seems he went to a dinner party where someone asked him how he was.  “I’m exhausted,” Wilde supposedly replied.  “I spent the entire morning putting a comma in and the afternoon taking it out.”

Although Wilde’s statement is humorous, we can all relate, because we have all been there at some point as readers and as writers.  The important message, though, is that even the masters have to go through a growth process in order to maintain their mastery.   Reading and writing are about constant growth; they are a constant journey.  

Love K. Foy
ELA Coordinator, Secondary Ed.

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